Embracing the tablet paradigm of computing in 2016

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Sometimes necessity is just the mother of another necessity. In my case, the untimely transformation of my MacBook Pro into a brain-addled MacBook Pro just before Christmas pushed to the fore a decision I had been toying with for some time now. The SSD drive in my laptop failed, badly, completely and suddenly in the week leading up to the holidays. Even after I replaced it with an external drive (an internal replacement for the Apple-specific part was going to be almost equal to the cost of a new laptop) my MacBook Pro was about as reliable as a 19th-century alcoholic gambler. So, I needed a new daily driver.

I decided that my cheapest and best option was not a laptop at all, but rather an iPad Pro.

I made the decision for financial reasons but also because it forced me to embrace completely the tablet paradigm of computing. I was getting tired of hearing the voice in my head saying: "You can't do that because... You can't use the software you used on your Mac... There's no file system..." And all the other excuses I've heard from my inner voice and from other folks about why this or that new technology won't work for them.

I was not, I told myself, going to fall victim to the implacable assurance of the technically unaware -- that dreadful mental state in which people who know nothing about a new technology dismiss its usefulness by projecting their current habits onto the new devices.

A dear friend of mine was recently given a smartphone by his wife. He told me he would still take his ancient feature phone with him on walks because the buttons were bigger. The fact that he could use voice commands to speed-dial contacts on the smartphone and avoid buttons altogether didn't enter into his decision-making. Current conditions should not dictate future use.

In short, I thought: it's a new year, act like it.

So, for the past 10 days I've been using my iPad Pro as my sole computer. I have to say, in some ways it's been a revelation. For decades I've been an avid photographer. Originally I did black and white as well as colour printing in a traditional darkroom. The chemicals are probably still buried deep in my hands and sinuses. And, I've used Photoshop since it was in short pants. But being able to dodge and burn a photo precisely on a huge screen, on my lap with a stylus, was magical. I have never felt so in touch with an image, even in a darkroom. I could get down to the pixel level with precision, rotating and zooming the image at will. It made working on an image with a mouse like having sex while wearing oven mitts. Not that I'm judging.

And viewing images on the big, bright screen was a rich, rewarding experience. For anyone involved in graphic design, a big tablet is a godsend. Finally, importing the images from my camera is actually faster than on my MacBook Pro. The new SD card to lightning adapter from Apple offers USB 3 speeds and the processor in the tablet keeps up with the ingestion without missing a beat.

But, I've also found it great for writing. I'm using it now with a Compass stand and an external keyboard. I have the tablet propped up in portrait mode. It is a pleasure to see the entire column so far on the screen. And, it's easy to split the screen if I need to look something up. Keyboard shortcuts (like Cmd-Tab for bringing up a list of running apps) work well and make it easy to multitask when I need to.

And, the iPad Pro is a wickedly good device for listening to music. The four speakers pump out a surprising amount of volume and clean sound. They easily fill a room with, right now, Glenn Gould playing Bach.

Are there downsides? Sure. The size makes it harder to carry around the house. It is laughably big as a bedtime reader, and using the virtual keyboard lounging on a couch is awkward. But then, all of that pertains to a laptop as well. But, for those few cases, I have my smartphone.

So, apart from having a brain dead MacBook on my hands, I have no regrets. But, the year is young. I shall report back on my progress as 2016 rolls out.

Wayne MacPhail has been a print and online journalist for 25 years, and is a long-time writer for rabble.ca on technology and the Internet.

Photo: Cole Camplese/flickr

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